Guitar picks (or plectrums) remain one of the most important but often-overlooked links in a guitarist's sonic chain. Why? Because switching picks can make a surprising difference to your playing style and the tone you produce.
We've also pieced together some useful buying advice to help you understand size, gauge and material when it comes to guitar picks.
What are guitar picks made of?
Plectrums have been around for thousands of years, and were traditionally made from natural materials and animal byproducts including bone, tortoiseshell, steel, amber and even wood.
D'Andrea Picks made the first plastic guitar pick in 1922, which went on to influence the shape and style of modern plectrums. Nowadays, guitar picks are commonly made from a range of synthetic materials, including:
Best guitar picks: buying advice
There are three primary factors to consider when choosing the best guitar picks for you. Firstly, carefully consider the shape you go for. This affects the surface area of the plectrum and therefore how easy it is to transition between the strings on your guitar or bass.
Strummers and acoustic guitar players may prefer a larger-sized pick, while jazz and metal guitarists tend to prefer smaller, pointed designs to maximise dexterity and their ability to transfer between strings.
Secondly, the gauge of a pick refers to its thickness; thinner picks are better suited to rhythm playing, while alternate and bass picking can be easier with thicker plecs.
Finally, of course, there's the material to consider. The material you choose impacts grip and tone. Nylon and celluloid plectrums produce a warmer, old-school tone, while Tortex and acrylic plectrums offer a brighter, snappier response.
With all that in mind, take a look at our guide to the best guitar picks available today, spanning traditional and more contemporary designs.
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The best guitar picks available today
First intended as a replacement for tortoiseshell (hence the tortoise design) Tortex picks were launched way back in 1981. Their durability, flexibility and bright attack have ensured they remain the industry standard today. Dunlop’s colour-coding system makes it easy to find replacements for your preferred gauge, which range from .50mm (red) up to 1.14mm (purple).
Fender makes a surprisingly wide range of picks in a host of sizes, shapes and thicknesses, but the majority make use of celluloid. This material provides a warmer tone than many other pick types. The 551 takes Fender’s traditional 451 shape and serves up a wider body and sharper tip, making it great for rapid-fire single-note licks.
The clue is in the name with this long-standing classic: a small profile, quick-release moulded edge and sharp tip provide the agility to see the Jazz III through the speediest of runs with ultimate precision. Two versions are available: the warm-sounding Red Nylon or brighter, sharper response of the Black Stiffo.
The DuraGrip design, from guitar string and accessory giant D’Addario, is made from Duralin, which promises to highlight the bright ‘click’ of the pick hitting the string, whether that’s playing chords on acoustic, laying down speedy single-note runs on electric or hitting a bass hard. Add in a stamped grip design, enhanced durability and choice of seven different gauges, and the DuraGrip is worth picking up. It’s available in Wide, Jazz, Sharp and Standard shapes.
Guitar players usually have to make the choice between lighter-gauge picks for strumming and heavier gauges for single-note picking, but Dava allows guitarists to possess both in a single pick - depending on where you hold them across the Control Region, Control Picks can provide a soft or hard response. There’s a choice of three materials, too: Delrin, Nylon and Gels.
An acrylic construction affords Gravity Picks a different sound and feel to a lot of other plectrums on the market. Besides offering increased grip for your fingers, they seem to ‘glide’ across the strings - great for string skipping and sweeping - and deliver a brighter tone to boot. 1,000s of variations are available, and you can easily order customised versions, too. Sizes range from 1.5mm to 3.0mm.
Players continue to swear by Dunlop’s Nylon Standards, which are known for their warm tone and durability. If you’re after a lighter-than-normal gauge, this is the best place to look: Nylons start at a seriously wobbly .38mm and .46mm, and go up to 1.0mm. They’re a handy tool to have in your arsenal for recording textures and delicate acoustic strumming.
Ernie Ball brands these ‘high performance’ picks, and it’s easy to see why: made out of Delrin for enhanced grippage, Prodigy Picks boast a machined bevelled edge and sharp point to aid speedy playing techniques by reducing drag and enhancing articulation and control. That makes them a sound choice for shred and metal players. They’re available in 1.5mm and 2.0mm gauges, in standard and mini formats.
This new take on an old favourite gives the beloved Tortex series a bevelled-edge makeover. Sharp edges and a wide angle provide the gliding movement that made Dunlop’s existing Flow picks a hit with shredders such as Andy James and John Petrucci, but here they’re paired with the traditional Tortex material for an altogether snappier response. They’re available in gauges from .50mm to 1.5mm.
You’ve probably heard of TUSQ - it’s the man-made ivory substitute that’s used in a lot of nuts and bridges. Graph Tech has also crafted picks out of the material, with a unique twist. There are three different ‘tones’ of TUSQ Pick (bright, warm and deep) in three different sizes (teardrop, standard and bi angle), each of which affects the sound that comes out of your guitar. The picks are also comfortable and hardwearing - and they make a satisfying sound when you drop ’em on a hard surface, too.
With a name like ChickenPicks, you'd expect this plectrum to be aimed squarely at country style hybrid playing right? Well, it'll handle that with ease, but this is also a great plectrum for jazz and general shredding.
The thick, precision-edged Badazz III, crafted from thermosetting plastic, comes from the Tritone III series and is available in 2mm and 2.5mm thickness. This pick is comfortable to use, with a good grip, and is versatile enough to handle everything from rock and jazz to country and metal.